Getting Started with Time-Lapse Photography

May 5, 2009 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | 20 Comments | |
Getting Started with Time-Lapse Photography Image

Tips for shooting time-lapse:

1. Use manual focus. Any moving objects in the scene or lighting changes can throw the auto-focus off. Manual focus also is better for battery power. If you are shooting a landscape or use a wide lens, set the focus to infinity.

2. Avoid auto white-balance. This will prevent color shifts in your final video. Select either a white balance preset or do a custom white balance.

3. If the conditions allow it shoot in Manual exposure mode. This way you won't have flickering in the final result which is caused by inconsistencies of camera metering. You can also control the amount of motion blur when you have moving subjects in your frame. For example if you are shooting moving clouds you'll get very different results by playing with shutter speed. With a slower shutter speed you'll get softer looking clouds with smoother motion, and with a faster shutter speed you'll get sharper and more detailed clouds. None is necessarily better than the other but what's great is you can control it.

4. If you can't shoot in Manual exposure mode (like when you are shooting a scene that goes from day to night) use the Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority instead of Program or full Auto. I recommend using Aperture Priority for most scenarios. For example for scenes with a lot of highlights at night using the Aperture Priority will keep the quality of light consistent. I use Apertures like f/8 or f/9 to get sharp and clear lights in city scenes.

5. Shooting RAW will give you more control at the end but there are a few important things to consider before making that decision. RAW files will be much bigger so you will need more storage when shooting time-lapse. You also need higher end software to process and convert a RAW sequence to a video file (like Adobe After Effects and Premiere). Working with a RAW sequence is also much slower especially if you're using a not-so-fast computer system. If any of these are a concern you might want to shoot JPG instead.

6. Finally you'll need to convert your sequence of images to a video file. There are many options on different systems that range from free tools to more elaborate (and more expensive) editing and compositing packages. If you're using the Windows platform, one of your easiest options is to use the Windows Movie Maker (free). All you need to do is to adjust the default duration of imported images in Windows Movie Maker and then import all your images and drag them in the timeline and save the video file. For MAC you can use Quicktime Pro to import a sequence and save it as a movie. Obviously if you have access to more advanced editing applications like Adobe Premiere or Apple Final Cut you'll have much more control.

I hope this brief introduction is enough to encourage you to try out time-lapse photography. It's a lot of fun!

Sam Javanrouh - Daily Dose of Imagery

Players from Sam Javanrouh on Vimeo.

Chess players at Dundas Square, Toronto. Shot on Canon 5D with 5 seconds intervals. Exposure of 1 second for each frame. 653 frames shot within about an hour.
Music from Philip Glass' "The Photographer"

Entry Tags

photos, video, photography, time lapse, timelapse, intervalometer, time-lapse

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#1 Yash Gupta

One of my questions about timeapse photography going from day to night is how to adjust the exposure as it gets darker?

6:38 pm - Tuesday, May 5, 2009

#2 nt

Very nicely executed. A parking lot next to a road so that there was some movement/transition every few minutes. Any idea about the number of exposures made, how much memory it needed?

7:22 pm - Tuesday, May 5, 2009

#3 Danbat

Making a timelapse of a dawn in the mountains i just set the camera to adjust automatic exposure time for every photo before it was take. Was a 15 secs lapse, the first photos were 6 seconds shots and the last was 1/40 secs. Works very nice.

I’m using a 4 Gb card with a 10 mpx camera, shooting raw, and i can take about 300 photos. At 30 frames/sec it will be a 10 secs sequence. For a 1 min video must have a really big card or save the pictures in jpeg.

8:25 pm - Tuesday, May 5, 2009

#4 Yash Gupta

Thank you Danbat, Did you get any “flickering in the final result which is caused by inconsistencies of camera metering”? which camera are you using?

8:44 pm - Tuesday, May 5, 2009

#5 Danbat

Yes, flickering is a BIG problem, but results were good enough to impressionate my friends. I’m not a professional (yet ;) ) so i just ignore it.

I’m using a Canon 40D. Recently i purchase a M42-EOS adapter and using my old lenses with outstanding results. Manual focus and no battery consumption from lenses, so the camera can take more photos in one night session.

8:57 pm - Tuesday, May 5, 2009

#6 Martin Setvak

Hello, though you mention that there are cameras with built-in time-lapse capability, I disagree that their options are basic and quite limited. The basic interval of Ricoh cameras (GX100/200, GRDI/II, R-series, and CX1) starts at 5 seconds, which might be too long for some scenes, but is fully sufficient e.g. for “timelapsing” of clouds. The main advantage of these cameras is that you don’t need anything else but a tripod… Many examples and namely additional recommendation on setting-up a Ricoh cameras for time-lapse photography (but still valid for any other time-lapse hardware) can be found at my time-lapse webpage: You will find there is also a step-by-step guide for beginners on how to set-up a movie file from the sequence of images, which is based on freeware software, and which among other describes how to deflicker a movie…
Regards, Martin

5:06 am - Wednesday, May 6, 2009

#7 Pete

I know this sounds like a plug, but I just finished a time-lapse video of a building my father built recently.  I used a Canon SD1000 at 2 minute intervals (more next time though), using CHDK (google it!).  CHDK is a hack program you can load onto an SD card for use on Canon point and shoots.  The script used for the intervalometer was easy to install, and I put the video together using Picasa.  A little more involved than buying a toy or setting up with a PC, but the battery was at half drain after 6 hours, which is pretty sweet, and all I had to do was leave it alone.  The next one will be better, I think.
“Timelapse of a Timber Frame”

5:21 am - Wednesday, May 6, 2009

#8 Sydney Guy

I absolutely love time lapse photography, but i can not seem to get it right! lighting plays a big factor with time lapse, especially if it is outside and for extended hours.

1:01 pm - Wednesday, May 6, 2009

#9 RAW

I am starting to shoot RAW when i shoot time-lapse, and have encountered a problem.
I edit the RAW media (crop, color, exposure, ect…) in Lightroom2, and export to jpeg in a separate folder. The jpegs reflect all my edits, but as soon as I assemble them in Quicktime Pro, or Final Cut. I loose a lot of the vibrancy of the colors. I am shooting in RAW so I have more versatility in editing, but something goes wrong when I assemble the jpegs.  Anyone else experience this problem? What software do you use to assemble the photos?

3:21 pm - Sunday, July 12, 2009

#10 Danbat

I use VirtualDub for jpeg join in a no-compressing video. Works pretty well. Also use the deflicker plugin explained by Martin Setvak with excellent results. I re-made a timelapse I did last year and made another one. You can find both at

3:28 am - Monday, July 13, 2009

#11 Time-lapse

There are good examples of construction time-lapse films on lobster pictures vimeo and youtube channels. For installed cameras that are designed for prolonged use and stability (and monitoring from a remote browser it is also worth checking out there is the Lobster Pot camera and Lobster Lapse software.

10:33 am - Saturday, August 22, 2009

#12 Matt

Some cameras have interval timer built in.
Nikon D5000, 300, 300s (and maybe higher models)
Most Ricoh CX, GX, GR series can also do this.

2:11 am - Monday, November 2, 2009

#13 Yash Gupta

wow! so nikon has started adding interval timer in the low end models? (D5000) but not in the D90?

2:14 am - Monday, November 2, 2009

#14 John Delbach

What about this one ?

4:23 pm - Friday, June 18, 2010

#15 Kiran Gosu

And what software did you use to stitch the photos? Do we have any freeware? windows movie maker is not working on my machine for some reason.

3:29 pm - Wednesday, February 16, 2011

#16 kc

Would anyone know what good software to use to put all the pictures together with?

11:31 pm - Thursday, March 3, 2011

#17 KC

Ok i have a Nikon D5000, could someone tell me what settings i would use, to get that lovely night scene with the stars, at the moment its all blue and messed up a bit.

ISO, F, WHITE BALANCE, Anything else that will help.

6:29 pm - Saturday, March 19, 2011

#18 Yash Gupta

@KC I think you need to just reduce the exposure to make it black. You may also need to adjust the whitebalance.

5:30 am - Tuesday, March 22, 2011

#19 KC

Thanks Yash, i will give that a try.

1:47 pm - Thursday, March 24, 2011

#20 fatdog

Any chance of you guys testing my time lapse app just landed in itunes called PikFliks

3:33 am - Friday, May 27, 2011